1890, 1891, 1900, 1904, 1911, 1917, 1931, 1934, 2011, Music

The Complete Concertos (2011) by Alexander Glazunov, Performed by the Russian National Orchestra conducted by Jose Serebrier

I can be quite picky about compilations, especially when there is a supposed theme to them, such as “violin concertos.” I generally want my music to be at least of the same era – and performed by the same people – rather than a hodgepodge that some record exec thought was a good idea.

So this is a great little set: it’s Glazunov’s concertos, regardless of solo instrument (shock, horror). Instead of some featured violinist or pianist, we get an orchestra and a conductor tackling the set with various soloists. And frankly, I prefer it this way even though the music spans over 40 years of Glazunov’s life (and therefore drastically different music).

But there is one problem that I do not know the answer to: some of the pieces here were originally written for solo instrument and piano, not orchestra, and so don’t qualify as concertante, but also some of the pieces listed as his concertante by wikipedia are not present. So what gives? (Maybe I should read the liner notes!) Anyway….

The violin concerto is a great showpiece for the instrument and is actually a little odd in its layout. I figure there’s a reason he’s known for it, as it’s kind of nuts at times – there’s lots of reasonably unconventional playing for the instrument itself, even if the music around it isn’t particularly daring. A pretty neat piece.

The “Chant du Menestrei” was evidently originally written for just piano and cello, and I can’t help thinking it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the program, but in this form I guess it’s technically a mini cello concerto. The piece is very pretty and pleasant, if slight.

The first piano concerto is very nice to listen to.

The second piano concerto is definitely not my thing – written right in the middle of a musical revolution, it definitely sounds like the counter revolution or, at the very least, some kind of peace-making. It’s technically difficult, sure, but it sounds like it belongs to the late 19th century, not the early 20th.

The saxophone concerto is one of those kind of cool / kind of hilarious attempts by a non-American composer to mix jazz influences into European art music. But otherwise it is a pretty traditional piece, and I want to like it a lot more than I do. It’s certainly far less obviously jazzy than many of the other efforts in this vein, and it would be nice if the whole thing let loose a little more, given that it was written in the ’30s.

The ‘Reverie’ is another piece that feels out of place – and again it was originally written for different instrumentation. It’s a little too saccharine for my liking.

The ‘Concerto Ballata’ is, I guess, sort of a cello concerto as a ballad. It’s very pleasant, but not knowing anything about music theory, I’m at a loss as to how this is more of a ballad than a cello concerto, as it sounds to me like a cello concerto. It’s pretty traditional for the era, but it’s nice enough.

The ‘Meditation’ in D major for violin and orchestra is another thing that may not really belong on the compilation. Like the “Chant du Menestrei,” it’s slight but pretty.

On the whole the compilation is worth listening to if you have any interest in late-Romantic Russian music, or if you are into violin concertos. Pretty good stuff.


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